1.2 million renters at risk from electrical hazards every year

20 June 2014

Private renters at risk

Electrical Safety First and Shelter call on the government to change the law to protect private renters.

Mother Jane Andain backs campaign after daughter Thirza was electrocuted in her rented home.

Electrical Safety First and Shelter are calling on the government to change the law after a joint report revealed that dangerous electrics are putting the lives of England’s 9 million private renters at risk.

The report, ‘Home Improvement: Tackling Poor Electrical Safety in the Private Rented Sector’,  reveals that homes in the private rented sector are worse than in any other, with a third of properties failing to meet basic standards and a sixth of renters, or 1.2 million adults, reporting problems with electricity in the last year.[i]

The report highlights that current regulations are not fit for purpose: there is no legal requirement for landlords to ensure that electrics are safe before renting out a property or to check the wiring and any electrical appliances they have provided on a regular basis. This is particularly concerning given that there is a growing number of ‘accidental’ landlords – renting out properties either because they inherited or could not sell –  and who may be less likely to consider electrical safety as a priority.[ii]

As dodgy wiring and poor electrics are often unseen, lying uncovered until a serious accident occurs, a lack of legislation means that an unacceptable number of properties are let out in a potentially deadly state. Every year 70 people die from electrical accidents and 350,000 people are seriously injured[iii]. Research suggests that private renters are more likely to be affected.

Jane Andain knows too well the consequences of a lack of regulation – her daughter, Thirza Whittall, was electrocuted six years ago as the result of poor electrics in the house she was renting. Thirza had just moved to Cornwall with her family and a few months later was found dead in the bath after electric current had made its way through to the metal bath taps.

Jane is now supporting Electrical Safety First and Shelter’s campaign to ask the government to introduce legislation that means this will not happen to other families. The charities’ report concludes that the easiest and most efficient way to do this is to introduce mandatory five yearly checks, by a competent person, of the electrical wiring and appliances.

Phil Buckle, Director General of Electrical Safety First said: “Mandatory five yearly checks are the only way to ensure that all private rented sector properties are safe. This change in law would be very easy to implement as the primary legislation already exists and our research shows that the majority of MPs would support a change in law[iv]. Electrical inspections by a competent person can cost as little as £100, which is less than £2 a month or 6p a day over a five year period. This is an incredibly small price to pay to keep people safe and we want to see the government take action.”

Jane Andain said: “What happened to my daughter was a tragedy, but could have easily been avoided if her landlord had made sure the electrics were properly and regularly checked. Electricity kills, it’s as simple as that, and yet there is no law in place to protect tenants like my daughter.

“Introducing mandatory five yearly checks of electrics seems like such a simple ask and so I can’t understand why six years on from Thirza’s death there is still no requirement for landlords to ensure the property they are renting out is in a safe condition. I hope that the Electrical Safety First and Shelter report will lead to something, finally, being done to stop the same thing from happening to other families.”

Another concern highlighted in the joint report is the significant imbalance of power in the private rented sector. There is currently no specific legislation in place to protect renters who report poor conditions to their landlord or local authority from being evicted in retaliation. More than 200,000 renters were evicted or served notice in the last year because they complained about a problem in their home, and 1 in 8 renters have not challenged their landlord because they fear this could happen to them.[v]

The research was commissioned by Shelter and British Gas as part of their partnership to improve the conditions of privately rented homes.

Campbell Robb, Chief Executive of Shelter said: “As our shortage of affordable properties pushes homeownership further out of reach, more of us are facing the prospect of settling down and bringing up a family in a rented home. But England’s nine million private renters face the worst housing conditions in the country, and the chance of eviction if they complain. Generation rent is desperate for a better deal. No home should put your life at risk, and no-one should feel too scared of eviction to ask a landlord to make a repair. We need to see politicians tackle these problems once and for all.”   

Visit www.electricalsafetyfirst.org.uk/renting  to hear more about Jane’s story. Landlords and tenants can also learn more about electrical safety and current legislation and can download advice and toolkits from Electrical Safety First and Shelter, as well download the Home Electrical Safety Check app which allows users to identify and flag electrical dangers in their home.


For more information please contact Rosie, Libby or Rachel on electricalsafetyfirst@forster.co.uk or call 0207 403 2230.

Notes to Editors:

  • Electrical Safety First is the UK charity dedicated to reducing deaths and injuries caused by electrical accidents. We campaign to improve safety regulation and messages, and provide expert information and advice to the public and professionals to help ensure everyone in the UK can use electricity safely. Visit www.electricalsafetyfirst.org.uk for more information
  • Shelter helps over three million people a year struggling with bad housing or homelessness, and campaigns to prevent it in the first place. We’re here so no-one has to fight bad housing or homelessness on their own. Visit www.shelter.org.uk for more information
  • The ‘Home Improvement: Tackling Poor Electrical Safety in the Private Rented Sector’ can be downloaded at www.electricalsafetyfirst.org.uk/renting. The report is being launched today at an event at the House of Lords
  • All consumer research, unless otherwise stated, was conducted by YouGov on behalf of Shelter and British Gas with a base of 4,544 private renting adults.  Fieldwork was undertaken between 11th December 2013 - 16th January 2014.  The figures have been weighted to representative of all private renters in England (aged 18+). Landlord results are based on YouGov survey of 1064 private landlords, fieldwork was undertaken between 11th December - 19th December 2013.  The surveys were carried out online.
  • Electrical Safety First recommends that all electrical work in the private rented sector should be carried out by a competent person who is registered with a government authorised scheme. For more information on finding a registered electrician visit www.electricalsafetyfirst.org.uk/findanelectrician


[i] A third of houses in the PRS fail to meet the government’s own Decent Homes Standard according to:
DCLG, English Housing Survey 2012-13, Table 13: Non-decent homes by tenure

16% of private renters in England have experienced problems with electrical hazards in the last year. There are 7 million private renting adults in England (Census 2011) which means that over 1.2 million have experienced problems with electrical hazards in the past year.

[ii] Accidental landlords are owners have inherited a property or are renting because they cannot sell. An estimated 27% of landlords are ‘accidental’

[iii] “Electrical Safety First, Core Data Set, derived from GB-wide DCLG fire statistics ’Mortality data and polling’,available at http://www.electricalsafetyfirst.org.uk/news-and-campaigns/policies-and-research/statistics/”

[iv] According to 2011 ESC cross-party survey of 100 MPs showing that 65% either agreed or strongly agreed about the need for mandatory wiring checks in the PRS

[v] Shelter and British Gas commissioned a YouGov poll of 4,544 private renters in England. Fieldwork took place between 11th December 2013 and 16th January 2014. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all private renters in England (aged 18+). All population estimates have been calculated by Shelter. 2% of respondents agreed with the statement ‘I was evicted or served notice because I asked for a problem in my home to be dealt with that was not my responsibility (eg repairs or conditions) in the last year’ or the statement ‘I was evicted or served notice because I complained to my local council about a problem in my home to be dealt with that was not my responsibility (eg repairs or conditions) in the last year’. This is equivalent to 213,638 people in England including dependent children.